Shattering the illusion of the temperamental artist who doesn’t want to hear anything about data to fulfil their vision, analytics are front and center of Hollywood’s creative approach.
Radha Subramanyam, chief research and analytics officer at CBS Corp. and president of CBS Vision, says she has worked with some of the biggest and best creatives in the industry, and they could not be more data driven.
“One myth to dispel is the idea that artists think of data as anti-creative,” she said. “All creatives want to do is to have their work heard and seen, to have it resonate. If we give them useful feedback whether on casting, or set, or costume then they are all ears.”
Subramanyam spoke on a podcast to Howard Tiersky, CEO and Founder of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency.
“The job of an analytics leader is to hear the voice of the customers and bring that back to the creative process,” she explained. “We are involved early in the creative process getting feedback on ideas, and data is the best feedback loop tell you if it’s landing or not and how you can make it better.
“There are times I might say the data is murky on this one, so you have to make a creative call; or other times the data is really clear, and I’ll say that [something] is not going to work.
“It becomes a relationship of trust,” commented Subramanyam.
“Creatives are always hungry for data, and they know their success is based on this feedback loop. We have information on talent from the biggest names on down and we are always monitoring them, thinking about what makes them tick, who speaks to what audience and so on.
“The actual shows are tested on the studio side and network side and put through multiple iterations. We have focus groups, we sometimes have neuro-metrics, we apply all kinds of methods and can then sit in the room with the creatives and help them fine tune the story. It’s not the vision we are questioning; it’s more about the execution and the tone and the narrative.
“We help [creatives] get better. We help them have bigger hits and it’s a relationship that builds over time.”
Elaborating on this process that CBS shows like the sitcom Ghost and action series The Equalizer went through, Subramanyam said that part of the job of a data analysis is keeping an ear to the ground to understand the “zeitgeist,” the current mood and emotion in the country.
“I hear a lot of angst in the industry about measuring performance but, while we may no longer have one or two trusted arbiters of third-party data, we can still find the answers. We have a pretty good sense of what is working and what is not.
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“We bring back a lot of qualitative and quantitative information about how people are feeling about everything from politics to COVID to global warming. Our job is to stay in touch. Then we’re involved in the creative process from the very beginning,” she said. “It’s our job to give thumbs up or thumbs down to a creative concept and equally to separate out where feedback is useful and not useful.
“As you go along your predictive abilities get tighter and tighter because as we near a finished product we are testing it multiple times using many different methodologies.”
Subramanyam said that COVID had increased the importance of news and information to consumers — on vaccination rates, for example. “Connection, information, community is one thread we saw very actively.”
Likewise, there is a need to escape from the pandemic as reflected in a high demand for comedy:
“In drama, you have to weave COVID into your narrative since you have to acknowledge the reality of day-to-day, but it can’t be front and center because that gets tiring. People are looking for unifying messages. They are tired of all conflict. They want high drama in positive sense that brings people together and makes them laugh.”
It is the combination of “human intuition, classic data analytics methods and AI’s which can work magic together,” she said.
“Variables do differ by genre. To a certain extent we’ve all been treating drama, reality or comedy as relatively similar from a predictive point of view. Some metrics do cut across all three but the more sophisticated you can be per genre the greater your predictive powers.”
Turning to advertising, Subramanyam said, “The hottest topic in media and the ad world right now is connected TV. This is TV content delivered over any data enabled and data led (by recommendation engines) device.”
“CBS is in the world of managing content across all those screens and, though linear viewing has been undercounted to a massive extent, ultimately, we are platform-agnostic. The same show will be displayed though an algorithm or recommendation engine in a connected TV device. We look at success factors across all of those and manage our content and inventory across all streams.”
Despite earlier saying that cross-platform measurement was not an issue when it comes to understanding “the zeitgeist” it remains a hot button when it comes to ad spend.
“It is important that analytics is used for the right purpose,” she said. “We have specific recommendation engines for Paramount+ and YouTube has a recommendation engine and those are appropriate uses of data and AI.
“What is not appropriate to equivalize impressions. An impression delivered at a moment of 10 million people watching The Equalizer (starring Queen Latifah) is not the same as a creative that comes after a cat video. It’s important to know the role that different media play in the consumer’s world but not to make them equivalent. That is the key to analytics. At CBS we are trying to differentiate these different measurements and outcomes.”
In another video interview with Beet.TV, Subramanyam explained, “Around advertising, the conversation becomes about value — not just performance-driven marketing, but upper-funnel, brand value, long-term customer value and other metrics that we care about. If we have a conversation around value, quality, and delivery in a brand-safe environment, we can have a much more interesting conversation than if we just spoke about price and CPM [cost per thousand].”
As marketers increase their media buys through automated platforms, there is concern that data and technology middlemen will capture a bigger share of TV media dollars, as they have on the open web.
Subramanyam said technology is valuable for use cases like frequency capping of ads, but not necessarily in the value exchange between advertisers and media owners.
“We need to understand what we are solving for, and then use the right combination of technology and insight against those specific problems,” she said. “If it’s about proving the value of a program or an ad, there’s a role for technology.
“We can learn from digital programmatic, display programmatic and how there was a flight to the bottom — and a flight from quality.”